This Article Reprinted with the permission of "The Gaited Horse Magazine"

Staccato Beat! Gaits of the Paso Fino
by Rhonda Hart-Poe

Paso Fino. The name says it all. Instantly one envisions the fancy footwork - flying hooves picking up and setting down in a flurry of motion. The smiling rider barely moves as he and his horse advance in the swiftest of tiny increments. The horse is highly collected, neck arched dramatically, powerful hocks forcefully kick away the ground, in thunderous drumroll percussion. It is a dance of near-bursting restraint and fierce action.

Ah, but there is more to the gaits of the Paso Fino horse than the namesake Paso Fino, or Classic Fino. Since the name "Paso Fino" was originally bestowed upon horses capable of the Fino gait throughout Latin America, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and various Carribean ports of call, it is the gait most commonly associated with the breed. But the Fino horse is in a class by itself. Paso Finos, in general, are capable of more than "a slow progression of fast and furious footsteps". There are other four-beat gaits, including the corto and largo. And there are other types of Paso Fino horses altogether, Trocha horses, which perform a diagonal gait, and Trotte y Gallope, (trot and gallop) Pasos, which trot and canter.

Ancestry of Gait
There are two schools of thought as to the origin of the Paso Fino breed, and subsequently, their gait. The commonly held theory is that these horses are of mostly Spanish descent - of the Jennet type, which were brought to the New World by Spanish explorers as early as 1493. These horses shared the gait and characteristic conformation with modern "Paso" horses. Some historians argue English or Scottish influence, pointing to the Narragansett Pacer - an "Americanized" version of the English Pacer and/or Scottish Galloway, which were heavily exported into the Caribbean during the 1700's.

Regional Differences
From an American standpoint, the two most influential countries in establishing the Paso Fino breed are Colombia and Puerto Rico.

Colombian horses perform various gaits, including those considered undesirable in the U.S., the trocha, trotte and gallope. One story credits the emergence of these gaits to the mare, Danesa, and her extremely popular and prolific son, Don Danilo. Danesa's sire was a Lusitano bullfighting horse who had been brought to Colombia in 1946 by the famed lady bullfighter, Lady Conchita Cintron. The higher step and flash of the Lusitano became very popular. Don Danilo, foaled in 1954 at the Hacienda de Farallones de Bolivar in Antioquia, Colombia, was sired by Zar O Rey Cometa (Cometa x Nieta) Cometa (Resorte I x Gaviota de Sopetran) and was soon booked to virtually every important Paso Fino mare in the country.

Puerto Rican Pasos credit a horse known as Dulce Sueño, by Cayeyano out of La Mosqueada, as the father of the breed in that country. Horses of this line are somewhat smaller in stature, but remarkably smooth riding, and naturally gaited.

The Conformation Component
In 1995, Carlos Cortelezzi, D.M.V., head of the Department of Podology at the 'Criadero la J' in Cali, Colombia, conducted a series of measurements. "We set out to find differences in the bone conformation of the three Colombian horse varieties, that would confirm the hypothesis that the trocha, trot and fino horses have their own gait because of differences in their bone conformation." Long bones, pasterns, height, girth and angles of upper joints, both in respect to joint connections and to the ground, were measured in 40 Fino horses, 40 Trocha horses and 40 Trotte y Gallope horses. The conclusions reached were surprisingly consistent.

"For example," Dr. Cortelezzi stated in an article for 4 Tiempos Magazine, "height doesn't determine that the horse be Fino, Trocha or Trot and gallop since the average of the three varieties (was) around 14 hands. However, the actual visible differences confirming the hypothesis was in the angle of the joint between the shoulder and the arm, the angle of the shoulder to the ground and the angle between the pelvic bone and femur (thigh)."

The Colombian research revealed that Fino horses tend to have an average shoulder-to-ground angle of 55º, an average shoulder to arm angle of 89º and an inner pelvic bone to thigh bone measurement of 88º. This contrasted most sharply with their findings of 51º degrees for the shoulder-to-ground angle, 82º shoulder-to-arm angle and 84º degree pelvic angle of the trot and gallop horses. Trocha horses, not surprisingly, averaged between the two extremes, with shoulder-to-ground angles of 53º, shoulder-to-arm angles of 85º, and pelvic angles averaging around 85º.

Gaits by Definition
The oft repeated "evenly-timed, four-beat, lateral gait" used to define the Paso Fino gaits is, like so many terms in use today to define equine gait, inaccurate.

By definition, "gait" involves all four feet. They either move in pairs - diagonally or laterally - or independently of each other. Paired gaits may be isochronal, the feet moving together diagonally (trot), or laterally (pace) - or they may have a break in the timing so that the feet do not move exactly together. In these gaits there is a moment of hesitation between each paired foot picking up and/or hitting the ground. This results in a trocha (pasitrote, fox trot) an uneven, four-beat, diagonal gait or a stepping pace, an uneven, four-beat, lateral gait. Likewise, the timing of square gaits (in which the feet move independently) is not always evenly-spaced, as it is in a properly executed fino, corto or largo, but may lean towards either the diagonal or lateral. Note that while the fino, corto and largo may appear to be lateral gaits, because the feet on either side pick up nearly together, when performed correctly the gaits are dead square, with a perfectly even cadence as the feet set down. Paca paca paca paca...

The Paso Fino is an evenly-timed, four-beat gait, slightly lateral as the feet pick up, but ideally, evenly timed (dead square) as they set down.

That said, the paso fino is an evenly-timed, four-beat gait, slightly lateral as the feet pick up, but ideally, evenly timed as they set down. Likewise for the corto, the preferred gait under saddle for many Paso Finos and the largo, the speed version of the gait.

Paso fino translates into "fine step," which is an accurate, though lackluster definition of the highly collected, exhilarating performance a Classic Fino horse gives. The horse appears to be dancing in place as there is very little forward motion. The renowned stallion, Capuchino, is reported to have 126 beats per minute with a 4 inch extension.

Corto translates to "short", fitting enough as, though not nearly as short as those of the paso fino, the footsteps of the corto are still somewhat restrained and the gait moves forward under light collection at a moderate speed, relative to a slow trot.

Largo means "length", which refers to the extension and tremendous length of stride Largo horses achieve. Largo horses are trained and conditioned for speed and the fastest often top 30 m.p.h.!

The trocha, and pasitrote, are equivalent to the fox trot, in which diagonally paired legs pick up nearly in unison, but set down in a slightly broken sequence, with the front foot hitting before the diagonal hind foot.

The trocha is executed at more speed and with less collection than the pasitrote. Often a horse with a lower, more relaxed headset, or a tired horse, will trocha. The gait is smoother to sit than the trot, with a side-to-side rocking and back and forth motion. It can be performed by horses for miles, with less tiring effect and is actually the preferred saddle gait of many Colombian Paso Fino owners.

Some Paso Finos do a broken pace, in which the laterally paired legs pick up together and set down in a slightly broken sequence. This may be caused by natural "paciness" of the individual horse, or by a improper head carriage and body frame, which make the horse uncomfortable.

Trote y gallope horses perform a diagonal trot and a highly collected canter. Though rare in the U.S. they are more common in Colombia. They appeared at the 1999 Mundial (International Paso Fino Competition) in Florida to a mixed reception.

And, of course, Paso Finos can walk, both in a very collected state and in a more relaxed, extended version, though under saddle, many actually prefer the corto to the walk.

Training and Exhibition
Paso Fino breeders pride themselves on horses that gait from birth, never having to be "trained" to gait. Any Paso Fino that is to exhibit gait under saddle, must first do so "au naturel". However, when started under saddle some have a tendency towards trottiness, or trocha, to stabilize themselves under the newfound burden of shifting weight.

Early training is kept at a walk until the young horse gains balance and confidence. As he begins to work off his hindquarters, more speed is asked. Short lessons are best. Some trainers recommend riding down a slight incline while pushing for more speed than a fast walk, to teach the youngster to get his hindquarters under himself. Some use a headlifter which attaches to the bosal and headstall underneath the chin. One set of reins attaches to the headlifter while another attaches to the bosal. As the headlifter raises the horse's head, his weight is shifted towards his rear, meanwhile the bosal is used to ask the horse to tuck in his nose.

Exhibition of the Paso Fino gaits is a masterpiece of showmanship. In the U.S., horses are shown in four categories Bellas Formas (halter, or conformation classes) in which handlers have the option to exhibit the horse in fino or corto; Classic Fino, in which 75% of the horse's total points are based on performance of the Classic Fino gait; Performance, in which horses are shown at a collected walk, corto and largo; or Pleasure horse, also shown at the walk, corto and largo, but with more emphasis on a relaxed ride. In both Performance and Pleasure divisions, horses are to show a distinct increase in speed and extension between the corto and the largo. Versatility classes also require a natural, three-beat canter and Western classes a slower, less collected lope.

In Bella Forma classes horses may be elegantly displayed by two handlers on two separate long lines, as they run along the horse several feet to the rear and side of the animal. This is to allow the horse to move freely without interference of a handler at his head. The handlers keep the tension on the lines behind the horse, helping it to tuck its nose and encouraging impulsion from the hindend.. The effect is dramatic.

Under saddle the exhibition of gait becomes even more creative as the horses are trained to gait over a "sounding board", a wooden boardwalk that loudly echos the sound of the hoofsteps back to the horse, the judge and the crowd. Exhilarating to watch, and to hear - the fino sounds like a drumroll or machine gun! Champagne classes exemplify the elegance of the breed. Mounted riders, at the mercy of the judge or announcer, carry a glass of champagne through a variety of gaits and maneuvers. The horse and rider team with the fullest glass at the end of the class wins! Another great exhibition of gait is the largo race, in which incredible speeds are hit in gait. Horses must remain in gait or be disqualified. Winners are those with the fastest time who do not break gait.

All in all, the namesake gait, as breathtaking as it is to watch, and ride, falls short of covering the incredible versatility this breed possesses. And though standards and showring preferences vary, the range of gaits of the Paso Fino continues to satisfy many tastes and demands. There truly is a Paso, of temperament, size, color, ability ~ and gait ~ for everyone!

Corrections to the article:

 Sire of Dulce Sueno  is Carmelo}

The caption identifying the Colombian Trocha horse misidentifies him as a Colombian Paso Fino... the caption should read to the effect that the GAIT (which was, after all, the focus of the article) is a Trocha, without specifically identifying the HORSE as Paso Fino.

 

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